Former sheriff gets back contract

Published 9:38 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

COURTLAND—Southampton County supervisors on Monday voted 5-1 to continue paying former Sheriff Vernie Francis $1,800 a month to maintain the emergency communication system, which includes 911.

Most supervisors said they acted in haste when they terminated Francis’ contract during their July meeting and expressed concerns for public safety.

Newsoms District Supervisor Glenn Updike voted “no,” claiming some deputies told him maintaining the equipment is not all that complicated.

“And it didn’t take near the time of hours that were reported,” Updike said. “This is being oversold on how complicated it is.”

Updike, who in July made the motion to terminate the contract, believes someone on staff could take care of it.

Francis’ job requires maintaining the system, which includes four towers, 911 equipment, and 1,500 radios and pagers for police and fire departments. Francis, who retired in December, received the contract because of his familiarity with the equipment after 28 years in office.

Berlin-Ivor District Supervisor Ron West said he went along with Updike’s motion this last month to a certain extent.

“But I think we made a mistake,” West said. “We acted too hastily and I’m willing to continue the contract with Sheriff Francis as it is and not jeopardize the citizens of Southampton.”

Sheriff Jack Stutts favored keeping Francis on board and is training a deputy to serve as Francis’ backup.

A manual is also being prepared.

Stutts said the job takes about 80 to 90 hours a month.

Capron District Supervisor Bruce Phillips agreed that the board did act in haste.

“We are here to protect the public safety of this county,” Phillips said. “I think in the best interest of the county, we would be best served to reinstate with the understanding that we are looking at all levels of this county and how we spend the money. We are not going to interrupt the service for our fire and rescue people.”

Ivor Fire Chief Carl Garner said after the meeting the decision will allow him to sleep a little easier.

“Our number one concern is safety,” Garner said. “As far as first responders, we depend on their radio system. I don’t think many people understand it’s more than he maintains the system and that it’s not all done for the sheriff’s department. The majority is for fire and rescue (personnel).”

Updike was disappointed with the vote.

“It looks like to me the tail is wagging the dog,” he said. “They used closed-door politics to see that this not be carried out.”